The contrast with San Francisco, my favourite sister-city reference, could not be sharper. The City by the Bay offers such internationally loved classics as Tony Bennett’s “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” and hippie anthem “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)“. A pedigree of 70s psychedelic bands got their start in San Francisco of the 60s, such as Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead.
Vancouver has not a single homage to its name, much less a musical movement to feel nostalgic about. What few candidates I was able to find are embarrassingly open in their cynicism. Matthew Good’s “Vancouver National Anthem” warbles about needles and high rent, until refraining “we all live downtown, we all die downtown”. Young and Sexy’s fondly titled “The City You Live In Is Ugly” starts with the SkyTrain chime before describing how commuters “look so resigned to the daily grind”, in a lifeless city where “there’s no use for you here”. It doesn’t get much more depressing than that. What is it about Vancouver that has failed to inspire song, and on what few occasions, has instead inspired hostility?
Plenty of talent comes from Vancouver, but avoids making a point of it. For Michael Bublé and Diana Krall, origins in the Lower Mainland are a kind of footnote to international jazz fame. Sarah McLachlan still resides in West Vancouver, though few seem to even know she’s from here (or nearly so, having moved from Nova Scotia over 25 years ago).
Perhaps the closest we come to a local sound is the punk movement, which briefly flourished in the 1970s and somehow survives with a core following. So I present the reluctant, provisional winner in my search: The Smugglers’ comic pop-punk postcard “Vancouver, B.C.“. Seems I’m not the first to be disappointed.